Monday 22 January 2018

A sportsman who could make a drama out of anything

Christy O'Connor Jnr in 2003 Photo:Sportsfile
Christy O'Connor Jnr in 2003 Photo:Sportsfile

Dermot Gilleece

He was a sportsman with a keen sense of the dramatic. Things rarely seemed simple and straightforward for Christy O'Connor Jnr, who departed suddenly from us last Wednesday.

The circumstances of his British Masters triumph at Woburn in 1992 captured the man perfectly. Like the fact that only a few weeks previously, he had luckily emerged unscathed from a helicopter crash at CityWest.

And two months later, he was on a flight from Shannon to Dublin when the electrical system caught fire. "We had a frantic run to the terminal building, fearing the plane would explode," he recalled.

For the benefit of those of you struggling with a certain New Year resolution, he experienced another sort of drama at Woburn. Involving cigarettes.

"When I quit cigarettes in January 1990, I thought I might never win a tournament without them," he said. "And as I walked up the 18th fairway for the last time at Woburn, I thought 'If I was a smoker, I'd really love a cigarette now.' In that moment, I could fully accept that I was a non-smoker."

His sense of drama was especially acute when he carded a course-record 64 in the first round of the Open Championship at Royal St George's in 1985. And if ever there was a moment created for Christy, it was the execution of that famous two-iron to The Belfry's 18th in the 1989 Ryder Cup.

All of which made him a photographer's dream. Wearing his emotions on his sleeve, he would raise his arms or slump to his knees, or both, depending on the circumstances.

Dammit, he was even able to make a drama out of telling me his age. In the middle of one particular interview I had with him, he cautioned: "This is off the record. I was away at a tournament and when somebody asked my age, I didn't know whether I was 43 or 44. So I rang Ann [his wife] and she said 'Bad luck. You're 44.' And I was really disappointed. I thought I had lost a year."

Another time, he told me: "I like to laugh. I suppose it's part of my Irishness."

We last met shortly before Christmas when both of us were doing the Santa thing with our respective grandchildren. And as the kids were receiving their gifts, Christy was enthusing about various projects in the new year.

With Santa under pressure, we were both asked to "Shhhh." And Christy laughed heartily. Which is how I'll remember him.

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